My Future SG contest: Consolation prize

WINNING THOUGHTS: Less face-time culture at the office

Mr Wangliao Yinan admires the efficiency and responsiveness of the German public service.
Mr Wangliao Yinan admires the efficiency and responsiveness of the German public service.PHOTO: COURTESY OF WANGLIAO YINAN

Do your bosses need to see you working late in the office to consider you productive? Law student Wangliao Yinan says no.

The 22-year-old, who is in his first year at Cambridge University in Britain, criticised in his "My Future SG" entry the Singaporean obsession with face-time culture.

This is when employers gauge their workers' productivity by how long they stay in the office.

Said Mr Wangliao in his entry: "There is a notion in Singapore that longer work hours are a trade-off, that they are necessary for economic growth. That is simply untrue."

Citing a 2013 study published in The Economist, he pointed out that Germans work only 27 hours a week on average - far less than Singaporeans, who work some of the longest hours among developed countries - yet their productivity remains one of the highest globally.

Last year, employed residents here worked an average of 44.3 hours a week, according to Ministry of Manpower (MOM) statistics.

Mr Wangliao, who often visits his aunt's family in Germany, said in an interview that he admired the efficiency and responsiveness of German public service. "For instance, their bus stops list the arrival times of buses very precisely, and those arrival times can actually be depended upon to a large extent," he said.

He suggested that Singapore try to emulate the German model by increasing the amount of leave given to workers. "Germany has six weeks of legally mandated vacation time. We might not be able to accomplish that, but we can aim to gradually increase ours to at least three weeks."

The annual leave entitlement in Singapore currently starts at seven days for regular employees, with a day more for every extra year of service, up to 14 days.

According to MOM statistics, more than half (57.6 per cent) of full-time employees here get 14 days of leave or fewer.

Reducing face-time culture is but one aspect of workplace productivity, said Mr Wangliao. "We could also look at distance-working, which many Western countries are increasingly adopting."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2015, with the headline 'Less face-time culture at the office'. Subscribe